Do your children have questions about the US Supreme Court’s decision to allow abortion rights to be overturned? In this Houston Chronicle article, Mindpath Health’s Elisabeth Netherton, MD, offers tips on holding important conversations.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – a precedent of nearly a half century – will unquestionably change the accessibility of abortion for women in large portions of the United States. It will also alter the nature of discussions between parents and children about sex, pregnancy, and childbirth.
Parents who identify as supporters of abortion rights may find themselves outraged by the decision, but Dr. Elisabeth Netherton, a Houston-based psychiatrist and women’s health specialist reminds that while there’s no “Dr. Spock” volume regarding women and bodily autonomy, an informed and measured approach to discussing the decision is crucial.
“Both SCOTUS decisions that made news this week, the one about gun rights and Roe v. Wade could have a huge impact on the world in which our kids grow up,” she said. “It’s critical to talk to them about it now, to discuss what this all means.”
Netherton said such conversations should be done with clarity and an absence of volatility, regardless of the parents’ beliefs.
“It’s better for the children without the vitriol, framed as a family’s own set of values,” Netherton said. “Kids are looking to us for a sense of safety. They see these things that happen and how parents respond, like shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. Those things shake a parent’s sense of safety, so we have to be careful in how we approach these conversations. These can be difficult conversations. With this left to states to decide, my kids could grow up in Houston without the same rights as kids in other states.”
Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and author, has written a series of talking points with Vanessa Kroll Bennett, a writer, podcaster and founder of Dynamo Girl, a company that offers workshops and coaching to nurture self-esteem and physical fitness for girls.
Many of their suggestions orbit around methods of engaging children in conversation.
“No matter a kid’s age, if they’re asking questions, answer what they ask,” they write. “You do not have to cover everything all at once, but you can keep lines of communication rolling.”
They stress the importance of early and open dialog with children of varying ages.
“Make the distinction between talking about an issue when it’s a down-the-road possibility rather than an immediate possibility,” they say. “The conversation about emergency contraception and abortion with a teenager who is sexually active or could very well become so in the coming year is quite different from a conversation with a tween who is years away from that reality.”
They say their approach leans on “defining foundational terms like sex and abortion. So, the conversation with a tween about the Supreme Court decision does not begin with ‘Abortion has been overturned in this country. I am devastated.’
“Rather for a younger kid, it begins with, ‘Hey, do you remember how we talked about sex and how it can sometimes lead to making a baby? I’m not sure we’ve ever discussed it, but there is something called an abortion. Have you ever heard of that word? Do you know what it means?’”
Carly Manes last year came up with a text for kids younger than tweens. A full-spectrum doula – assisting women with pre-conception, birth, abortion, miscarriage, adoption and postpartum – Manes noticed there were children’s books about sex, birth, adoption, and miscarriages. Last year, she and illustrator Mar created “What’s an Abortion, anyway?” – likely the first children’s book to include an image of misoprostol.
“Abortion is one of the three or four realities when you’re pregnant,” Manes said. “I looked for an abortion book, and all I found was abortion propaganda.”
So, she wrote her own, which describes some of the reasons a woman might seek an abortion.
“The hope for the book was to normalize abortion as just another outcome of pregnancy, like a miscarriage,” she said. “Abortion now is inherently political, but this book is not meant to advocate. It’s just stating, ‘Here’s what it is.’…
Netherton said it’s critical these discussions are not just for mothers and daughters.
“Parents of sons should also appreciate the impact this will have on the rights of women,” she said. “It’s very important for children not to think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t impact me right now, it only impacts other people. This other group over there…’ This is a big decision that will have a broad range of effects on rights that aren’t confined to the decision.”
Children raised in an information age may respond to the Supreme Court decision with fervor and connected advocacy, Netherton said.
“Teenagers over the past 10 to 15 years have more avenues to use their voices for causes they care about than ever before,” Netherton said. “We should encourage them to be engaged and active.”
Read the full Houston Chronicle article with sources.
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